Eyewitnesses To Texas Explosion Describe The Scene

David Greene has an eyewitness account of Wednesday night's explosion at a fertilizer plant near Waco, Texas. West resident Julia Zahirniak and her son Anthony, who were across the street at West Intermediate School when the plant exploded, spoke with NPR's John Burnett.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And I'm David Greene. We are finding out more about last night's explosion at a fertilizer plant in the rural city of West, Texas. That's just north of Waco. The blast there registered as a small earthquake, leaving behind flattened blocks of homes and businesses. And it was deadly. At this hour, authorities are saying between five and 15 people are dead, and more than 160 are injured.

NPR's John Burnett has been reporting from the scene and earlier, he spoke with West resident Julia Zahirniak and her son Anthony, who were across the street at West Intermediate School when the plant exploded.

JULIA ZAHIRNIAK: My son and I, we go every afternoon to the football field, so he can kick his football. And as we were walking, he was playing. The next thing I know is that there's like, boom! And all you could see was fires, as high as you could see.

And then I tell Anthony - I said, run! You know, and then all you could hear was boom, boom, boom, boom, boom; and debris just started going. And we were trying to get to the car, and all you could see was the houses - and all the glass is just shattering; and people running and screaming. And then on this side, as we were running, you could see that care facility - which is the rest home - and people were screaming and running. And the next thing to see was just like, smoke and everything and...

JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: How far away is the fertilizer plant from...

JULIA ZAHIRNIAK: Well, it's right across the railroad tracks, just right across the railroad tracks. And we were on this side of the railroad tracks, right on the corner of the intermediate.

ANTHONY ZAHIRNIAK: And when it was on flames, and I - it was a gulf of flames, and...

BURNETT: Your school.

ANTHONY ZAHIRNIAK: Yes. And when I just kicked the football, it blew up on me, and I went 40 feet in the air.

JULIA ZAHIRNIAK: Not that high. You just went...

ANTHONY ZAHIRNIAK: Well...

JULIA ZAHIRNIAK: ...he went quite a bit, you know. And he was just - because of the (claps hands) - I mean, he just - it was just like, if it was like, right in front of us. It was like, that close. You could just feel everything, right there.

ANTHONY ZAHIRNIAK: And for the - so much pressure - of the pressure waves that was just lifting me up. And mom was screaming, and terrified. She was - she was in the air as well. And her car was in the air. Everybody's car...

BURNETT: When you say your car was in the air, you mean that it was lifted off the ground by the explosion?

JULIA ZAHIRNIAK: Well, yes. Yeah, because of the ...

ANTHONY ZAHIRNIAK: Pressure waves.

JULIA ZAHIRNIAK: Well, the trembling of the ground, that - the pressure of it, you know. And my car is just like, all dented in, you know, where it (makes sound) - you know, so...

BURNETT: And what happened to your house?

JULIA ZAHIRNIAK: Actually, we live right next to the care facility, but we were not allowed to go back. So we have no idea - anything. They just told us that we're just not allowed to go back.

BURNETT: Do you think your house is OK?

JULIA ZAHIRNIAK: Not sure. I've been told different stories, and we really don't know till we actually see it ourselves.

GREENE: That was Julia Zahirniak. She's a resident of the city of West, Texas. You also heard from her 11-year-old son, Anthony. Mother and son were speaking with NPR's John Burnett.

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